Is staring at the DJ while they play really that bad? - - Mixmag
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Is staring at the DJ while they play really that bad?

Or should it just be about the music?

  • Words: Josh Baines | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 28 February 2018
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Find yourself in the company of hot-handed technical wizards like Jeff Mills or Teki Latex or Amy Becker or Manara or Total Freedom, DJs who refuse to accept that seamless linearity is the be-all-and-end-all of good DJing, and it feels like you’re seconds away from sparks literally flying. It provokes an almost infinitesimal but definite sensation of disorientation: their fingers working quicker than the speakers, the speed of light faster than that of sound. You see the blend before you hear it. So you keep watching and listening, trying to beat time and space. And dancing, too, if you’re doing it right.

It isn’t just the firebrands whose hands I feel compelled to peer longingly at, either. On a recent trip to Bloc, in Hackney Wick, I spent the best part of seven hours watching Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston slide faders up and down very, very slowly during a spellbindingly chuggy cosmic disco set as A Love From Outer Space. I’ve felt myself tingle as Michael Mayer’s spindly fingers hover over the cue button for seven minutes at a time under Moroccan moonlight, and quiver at the very sight of Moonboots quietly laying the needle down on a 35-minute-long Indian folk record at a swanky London listening bar while trying not to drop pastrami on my trendy new orthopaedic casual shoes.

There seems to be a disdain for people who intently watch the DJ, from both DJs and fans alike. But is taking an interest in what someone’s doing on stage really all that bad? Surely, taking pleasure in watching what someone is doing on stage is allowed? Perhaps the joy in simply watching a really good DJ at work, close up, goes someway to explaining the enduring appeal of DJ streaming.

There are a million things you can do in a nightclub. Some will leave you scratching your head as the Uber crawls through early-morning fog with your brain fugged with worry and your wallet fifty quid lighter than it was a few short hours ago, and all this – the cabs, the clubs, the queues, and the can-I-borrow-a-Rizla-mates – comes to seem like a grand and needless folly. Others – like the approach I’ve taken to clubbing – provide you with a new perspective on things, refreshing your understanding of the possibilities of what clubs and DJs and dance music can do.

And hey, if the music’s crap, there’s always something to look at.

Josh Baines is a freelance journalist, follow him on Twitter